NEVER LET ME GO
"I was thinking
about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd
stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was
the spot where everything I'd ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I
was now standing here in front of it.”
The exhibition's title, Never Let Me Go, comes from Kazuo Ishiguro's novel set in an alternate world. The main characters are three friends who were born solely to be organ donors and therefore know from an early age that they will not live past 35. Despite its sci-fi, dystopian premise, it is not about science or politics, it is an account of the lives of three friends, from childhood to what in this world describes as their "end" what we know actually means death.
In the book, Never Let Me Go is the name of a song that the narrator, Kathy, loved as a child. The song came to her on a cassette tape donated to the boarding school where she grew up. Due to a lack of personal belongings at the school, the cassette tape along with the song became a treasure. Slowly, as Kathy matured, the meaning of the song also changed. As a child it represented keeping one's favorite things safe so no one could take them, but eventually the song comes to represent the desire to hold on to things as long as possible, knowing that they and everything will eventually disappear.
The impermanence of things and experiences, including Kathy's innocence and youth, her favorite things, and eventually all the people she loved, is a central theme of the novel. The tape itself, which in the novel is lost, but is eventually found again as a copy, has a parallel to painting. Music preserved on a tape recalls how materials are bound to surfaces, preserves the character of the paint, and documents a living, moving, active process. Painting, like a cassette tape, has the ability to retain and make a recording of an experience, of the ineffable and the ephemeral, for as long as possible.
Marie Birkedal's process is built around moments where, due to its physical properties, the paint can live and move across the canvas, movement, gravity, and drying time imply a state that is not permanent, but which the artist wishes to maintain. In Birkedal's paintings we don't just see form and colour, we also see paint poured on one side of the canvas slowly moving to the other side. By watching the process, we see the history of the painting and through the history we can imagine the artist's experiences, motivations and possibly even the back story.
Ian Jehle's work focuses on the plywood surface that dictates how and where the paint is applied, a thousand small chips locked together, simultaneously moving in all directions, a universe unto itself; that asks to be understood before it inevitably falls apart. It is a puzzle that requires specific steps to solve. When you imagine each step as a beat, the painting itself becomes a recording of how the puzzle goes from unsolved to a little more solved. In Jehle's paintings, the process reveals itself in the algorithm used to color in the shapes based on a never-solved math problem. The puzzle is rarely, if ever, solved, not because of a flaw in the algorithm, more because the act of trying to solve the problem is ultimately more meaningful than the solution.
This separation between the meaning of the content of the painting and the experience of the content of the painting and the experience of the process is something that both artists emphasize and describe.
Never Let Me Go is chosen by the artists because the novel communicates why artists produce art. Early in the novel, Kathy recounts fondly the artwork she and her classmates made as children at their special boarding school. The students submitted their art to what they called the "gallery" and therefore believed that what they created had great significance to the outside world.
As they got older, the students traded artwork as a way to remind each other of their shared childhood. And as adults, long after it became clear that the world had little interest in what they produced, the art became a way for the former students, now organ donors, to understand themselves and as a record of their short lives.
As mid-career artists both Birkedal and Jehle went through development. In her early practice, Marie Birkedal worked with drawings that dealt with social, political, and psychological boundaries set for women, whereas in the last decades she has worked with painting on the premises of painting. Ian Jehle produced large unauthorized portraits of people in the art world examining the often-incongruous public identities created. The exhibition shows a selection of paintings paired by the artists.
Marie Birkedal & Ian Jehle, 2 September - 2 October 2022, Herzbergstrasse 55, 10365 Berlin
Exhibition recommendation IDOART https://www.idoart.dk/kalender/marie-birkedal-ian-jehle-never-let-me-go